Sunday, October 23, 2016

Karen Lovely – Ten Miles of Bad Road | Album Review

Karen Lovely – Ten Miles of Bad Road

Kokako Records

www.karenlovely.com

13 tracks / 51:32

Portland, Oregon’s Karen Lovely really hit it out of the park with her 2010 sophomore album, Still the Rain. With a trip to the 2010 International Blues Challenge in Memphis (2nd place!), and three 2011 Blues Music Award nominations, she received a lot of well-deserved recognition. Karen has not been resting on these laurels, though, and her latest album, Ten Miles of Bad Road, is also amazing, earning her another BMA nomination, a Blues Blast Music Award nomination, and the 2015 Blues411 "Jimi" Award for Best Contemporary Blues Female Artist. This all makes perfect sense, as she is a tremendous talent who works hard and inspires those around her to do their best.

Ten Miles of Bad Road has everything going for it, as it was put together in Los Angeles by the best in the business, including producer Tony Braunagel and engineer Johnny Lee Schell. Both of these fellows are members of the legendary Phantom Blues Band, and they also provided the drum and guitar parts, respectively. Karen took care of the vocals, and she was joined by Jim Pugh on keys, James “Hutch” Hutchinson on bass, and the late Alan Mirikitani on guitar. Listeners will hear a lot of other A-list talent that helped out on many of the tracks, all of which are originals.

The album kicks off with “Low Road,” a smoky blues rocker that was penned by Mirikitani, featuring super clean leads from him on guitar and cool Hammond B3 from Pugh. Karen’s vocals are smooth and powerful as she describes her emotions after a lover cuts town in the dark of the dawn. Reviewers compare her vocal style to other artists, but she really has a sound of her own, and her voice blends well with backing singers Julie Delgado and Kenna Ramsey. This is followed up by “Company Graveyard,” another song that was written by Mirikani, but this time with a driving roadhouse beat courtesy of Braunagel and Hutchinson.

There are a lot of other neat songs in this set, and there is not enough room for me to write about all of them, but here are a few other highlights from the disc:

- The title track, “Ten Miles of Bad Road,” brings in the killer horn section of Joe Sublett (sax) and Les Lovitt (trumpet), and this uptempo piece is very accessible, making it radio-friendly. But it is not a sell-out pop song, rather a cool and detached narrative of a relationship that may not be worth the effort that is being put into it. Lovely shows a lot of depth here as she can sing pretty much anything that is put in front of her and make it her own.

- Karen has the perfect voice for ballads too, and a good example of this is “I Want to Love You,” which features solid piano leads from Pugh and more sweet backing vocals from Delgado and Ramsey. With a more sparse instrumentation and a slower pace, the tightness of the backline of Hutchinson and Braunagel is quite prominent.

- The album closes out with “Frank the Spank,” a boogie that sets the tone for the story of a bartender who is too generous with his pours; Lovely’s vocals smoky vocals really drive home the point on this one. This tune is upbeat and fun, and Schell’s guitar is a cool counterpoint to the harmonica of the surprise guest artist, Kim Wilson. What blues album would be complete without some sort of drinking song?

Karen Lovely has raised the bar with Ten Miles of Bad Road, a classy set of a thirteen quality tracks with not a clunker to be found. It is gratifying to see her talent and hard work pay off, and if you are a fan of contemporary blues I highly recommend you pick up a copy of your own -- this is Karen’s best work to date. Also, head on over to Lovely’s website to check out her tour schedule, as she has some gigs coming up around the US. Once you hear her you will not be disappointed!

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